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Angel Island (U.S. Immigration Station) Arrivals

This is the master project or portal for the Angel Island Arrivals series. We will have sub-projects broken down by decade. The first sub-project will be Angel Island Arrivals: 1910-1920.


Immigration Timeline

The experience for Asian immigrants in this period was quite different. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, severely restricting immigration from China. Since earlier laws made it difficult for those Chinese immigrants who were already here to bring over their wives and families, most Chinese communities remained "bachelor societies."

The 1907 "Gentlemen's Agreement" with Japan extended the government's hostility towards Asian workers and families. For thousands, the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay would be as close as they would ever get to the American mainland.

Angel Island History

United States Immigration Station (USIS): The “Ellis Island” of the West

In 1905, construction of an Immigration Station began in the area known as China Cove. The facility, primarily a detention center, was designed to control the flow of Chinese into the country, since they were officially not welcomed with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The first Chinese entered California in 1848, and within a few years, thousands more came, lured by the promise of Gam Sann or “Gold Mountain”. Soon, discriminatory legislation forced them out of the gold fields and into low-paying, menial jobs. They laid tracks for the Central Pacific Railroad, reclaimed swamp land in the Sacramento delta, developed shrimp and abalone fisheries, and provided cheap labor wherever there was work no other group wanted or needed.

During the 1870s, an economic downturn resulted in serious unemployment problems and led to politically motivated outcries against immigrants who would work for low wages. In reaction to states starting to pass immigration laws, the federal government asserted its authority to control immigration and passed the first immigration law in 1882. The Exclusion Acts, a series of restrictive laws prohibiting immigration, specifically targeted Chinese immigrants. Subsequent immigration laws were eventually consolidated under the Immigration Act of 1924, effecting certain nationalities and social classes of Asian immigrants.

Surrounded by public controversy from its inception, the station was finally put into operation in 1910. Immigrants arrived from approximately 84 different countries, with Chinese immigrants constituting the single largest ethnic group entering at San Francisco until 1915, when Japanese outnumbered the Chinese for the first time. Widely known as the “Ellis Island of the West” the station differed from Ellis Island in one important respect – the majority of immigrants processed on Angel Island were from Asian countries, specifically China, Japan, Russia and South Asia (in that order). Dubbed as the “Guardian of the Western Gate,” by its staff, this facility was built to help keep Chinese and eventually other Asian immigrants out of the country.


Further reading